Thieves had dismantled the five large air-conditioning and heat exchange units installed around the property, torn out the copper piping and tubes from the units and left the rest of the unusable parts in shambles.
“I’m sad and angry. This is the first trouble with theft problems the church has ever had,” said Clendenin, who noted it would cost the church around $15,000 to replace the AC units, one of which was brand-new. “I call it ‘thanks-taking’ instead of Thanksgiving.”
Clendenin and his congregation aren’t the only ones in Anniston who’ve been the victims of air-conditioning unit theft – far from it, in fact, according to city police.
Investigators said that since July they’ve had 41 cases of theft involving these large units that are used to provide central air-conditioning and heat to businesses and homes.
And those 41 thefts represent a huge increase from the two or three large units that are usually stolen each year, Sgt. Fred Forsythe said.
“We’ve been slammed. It’s been so many,” Forsythe said. “We’re getting killed because of the copper.”
For the past couple of months, scrap copper has sold for 60 percent more than it did this time two years ago.
Local scrap-metal recyclers currently buy scrap copper for prices between $2.65 and $2.85 per pound – about a $1 increase on the $1.75 they paid in fall 2008.
Ask any Anniston officer and he’ll tell you that high copper prices means a spike in copper thefts.
That’s a tried and true trend, said Officer David Wilcox with the Street Crimes Team.
What’s different this time around is that the persistently high copper prices have encouraged thieves to be more inventive about how they acquire it, Forsythe said.
And Forsythe believes that the continued incentive to find new ways to scavenge copper, in turn, has led to the widespread theft of large AC units.
But Forsythe – one of the leaders of Anniston’s investigative division – was quick to distinguish between the large units that provide power for central heating/cooling systems and the smaller window units.
Investigators say they’ve always had a seasonal problem with people stealing the window units, especially during hotter summer months.
But the frequent theft and destruction of the large units is something new.
That new copper-driven theft trend is happening in two ways.
One: Thieves will dismantle the units on the property – as was done at Clendenin’s church – and strip them of copper on site.
Two: Thieves will work together to actually steal the entire unit in one piece.
That happened to the Allsouth Auction & Liquidation Building on Hunter Street this weekend, Forsythe said. Investigators received a report Tuesday that two large units vanished from the building sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
“We’ve never seen people steal the whole units like this,” Forsythe said.
Calhoun County deputies are also experiencing a similar problem, but on a smaller scale.
Sheriff Larry Amerson said deputies received two reports within the last week of stolen AC units and also points to high copper prices as the ultimate culprit.
“Things quieted down for a while, but the problem has come back,” Amerson said.
Law-enforcement officials agree that it’s hard for local residents and business-owners to prevent AC-unit theft because the units are outside. And thieves usually strike at night when no one’s home.
“And they (the units) are so expensive to replace,” Forsythe said, noting the several-thousand-dollar price tag for just one unit.
For Clendenin, it’s not about the price so much as it is about the taste the theft left in his mouth.
The minister has served 15 years at the church and plans to retire next month.
“It’s kind of a sad note to go out on,” he said